By JON KAWAMOTO, Editor, Wheel of Dharma
The Buddhist Churches of America has joined the growing chorus of organizations, brands, religious institutions and individuals issuing public statements and messages on racism, inclusivity and inequality — and unequivocal support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
In the wake of the tragic and brutal police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day, the BCA Ministers Association and individual temples — such as the Berkeley Buddhist Temple and the Mountain View Buddhist Temple — have issued statements denouncing the recent police killings of African Americans. They have also called out systematic racism, inequity and injustice in U.S. society and given their full backing to Black Lives Matter.
“Today we find ourselves in a time of deep unrest and pain,” the BCA Ministers Association statement began. “There is no justification for the killing of George Floyd, of Ahmaud Arbery, of Breonna Taylor. These and other countless racially motivated misuses of force against Black people are a travesty that must not continue. The pain and anguish of the Black community is resounding throughout the United States and the world, and is touching the hearts of many more people, including our own ministers and members.
“Amida Buddha is said to have the ‘Wisdom of Non-Discrimination,’” the statement, which was posted on the BCA website on June 9, continued. “This is manifested in the Great Compassion that embraces ALL beings. Amida Buddha does not reject anyone based on age, gender, class, race, or any other basis. Although it is difficult for us as unenlightened beings to manifest this ‘Wisdom of Non-Discrimination,’ this radical equality is an ideal in our tradition. Although it is difficult for us as foolish beings to manifest the all-embracing Great Compassion, this kindness and caring is our model to strive for. However, this equality will never be reached until Black Lives Matter.”
BCA Bishop Rev. Marvin Harada has also issued a message, posted June 7 on the BCA website and the BCA Facebook page, titled “The Color of Pure Gold,” in which he stated, “Our world today faces racial tension and racism that tears at our humanity and society.
“It almost feels like we haven’t made any progress since the 1960s and the days of the Civil Rights Movement,” he wrote.
Rev. Harada mentioned the third of the 48 vows in the Larger Sutra for his title, “The Color of Gold,” and said the vow is “expressing what is at the heart of a Buddha, the heart of an Enlightened One that sees ‘beyond’ the color of our skin, such that all beings reflect the ‘color of gold.’
“May we strive to create a society and world that is based on that kind of aspiration, a world of oneness, an interdependent world that is made up of all sentient beings, a world beyond discrimination and distinctions, a world in which all beings reflect the color of gold,” he stated.
In addition, many individual ministers, including Rev. Harry Bridge of the Buddhist Church of Oakland and Rev. Matthew Hamasaki of the Buddhist Church of Sacramento, have posted videos on Facebook and YouTube, voicing their strong criticism of systemic racism and support for Black Lives Matter.
“When George Floyd was killed by someone who was supposed to hold up the law, when Breonna Taylor was killed for just sleeping in her own home, when Armond Arbery was killed for jogging in his neighborhood, when Oscar Grant is shot in the back and killed at Fruitvale Station on a stop on BART that I used to ride almost every day, when this is happening in our cities, in our country, to say ‘All Lives Matter’ is a bald-faced lie,” Rev. Hamasaki said in his YouTube video on June 2. “In fact, saying ‘All Lives Matter’ is not only a lie, but is taking away the tools necessary to combat oppression.”
Rev. Hamasaki said “it is also the moral obligation as Buddhists” to help others who have suffered from racism, injustice and inequality.
“Ultimately, from their point of view and from my point of view, from the Buddhist point of view, all lives can’t matter until Black Lives Matter,” he concluded.
Many other BCA ministers from throughout the country have discussed racism, discrimination and Black Lives Matter in their Dharma talks.
Rev. Hamasaki, Rev. Jerry Hirano of the Salt Lake Buddhist Temple and Rev. Gregory Gibbs of the Pasadena Buddhist Temple pointed out that Shinran Shonin, the founder of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism more than 800 years ago, questioned authority, injustice and advocated inclusion during a time when Japan was under the feudal system.
In 1207, the leadership of the Pure Land movement led by Honen Shonin — the teacher of Shinran Shonin — was exiled from Kyoto, the national capital and center of Buddhism. Shinran Shonin was himself exiled and sent to the Echigo coastal area of Northern Japan.
The exile was the result of persecution by other monks on Mount Hiei and in Nara, who were jealous and fearful of the growing popularity of Honen’s Nembutsu teaching.
Shinran Shonin wrote of his outrage toward the government officials and the emperor — and the mere act of criticizing and questioning the emperor took exceptional courage, especially for someone in 13th-century Japan. Shinran, Honen and other disciples were pardoned four years later by the government.
“Jodo Shinshu arose as a grassroots movement,” Rev. Hamasaki said. “They gave a voice, an alternative path to people who were marginalized. With this history. I believe it is imperative that we recognize how necessary it is for us to take action along with Black Lives Matter.”
In his Facebook Live study session on June 10, Rev. Hirano described Shinran Shonin as “a huge radical in the face of institutionalized religion. That’s why he was exiled. He was a political revolutionary who was exiled.”
Rev. Hirano — who appeared in the study session with his wife, Rev. Dr. Carmela Javellana Hirano — noted that Rennyo Shonin is credited with destroying the feudal state in Japan “because once people saw that they are equal — that there isn’t this stratified society with these people better — they realized that equality is a goal worth fighting for.”
To view the BCA Ministers Association statement opposing racism and supporting Black Lives Matter and Bishop, Rev. Marvin Harada’s message, “The Color of Gold,” go to the BCA website at: https://www.buddhistchurchesofamerica.org/
For a list of BCA temples and churches providing live-streaming Dharma messages and videos, go to the BCA website at: https://www.buddhistchurchesofamerica.org/live-streaming-and-recorded-temple-services/